Now in Effect: Washington Creates Streamlined Process to Expunge Some Marijuana Charges

By Michael Maharrey

OLYMPIA, Wash. (Aug 1, 2019) – This week, a Washington state law that will make it easier for people with marijuana charges on their records to have them expunged, along with a law that will allow students to consume medical marijuana at school, went into effect. These new laws take another step toward nullifying federal cannabis prohibition in effect.

A coalition of 12 Democrats introduced Senate Bill 5605 (SB5605) back in January. Under the new law, any person convicted of a misdemeanor marijuana offense, who was at least twenty-one years old at the time of the offense, can apply to the sentencing court for expungement of the applicant’s record of conviction. Under the new law, the court must vacate the applicant’s conviction record and may not consider any restrictions applicable to vacating other misdemeanor convictions under current state law.

The House passed SB5605 by a 67-29 vote. The Senate gave final approval by a 30-15 vote. With Gov. Inslee’s signature in May, the law went into effect July 28.

Washington voters legalized marijuana in 2012 and the legislature legalized cannabis for medical use in 1998. But up until now, the state did not make any provisions for individuals convicted of marijuana crimes prior to legalization. Enactment of SB5605 will allow those who were convicted of actions that were once illegal but now legal clear their records.

The new law will not only help some people with prior marijuana arrests and convictions on their record get a new start, but it will also further undermine federal marijuana prohibition. As marijuana becomes more accepted and more states simply ignore the feds, the federal government is less able to enforce its unconstitutional laws.

In the past, we’ve seen some opposition to marijuana legalization bills because the new laws generally leave those previously charged and convicted unprotected. The passage of SB5605 demonstrates an important strategic point. Passing bills that take a step forward sets the stage, even if they aren’t perfect. Opening the door clears the way for additional steps. You can’t take the second step before you take the first.

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In other news, Washington state students will now be able to consume medical marijuana on school grounds.

A bipartisan coalition of two representatives and a senator sponsored House Bill 1095 (HB1095). Under the new law, school districts in the state must allow students with a medical marijuana card and parental permission to consume marijuana-infused products for medical purposes on school grounds, aboard a school bus, or while attending a school-sponsored event. Schools will be required to formulate policies accommodating such students.

The House passed the final version of HB1095 by a 79-16 vote. The Senate approved the measure 41-4. It also went into effect on July 28.


Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

When Washington legalized marijuana, the state removed a huge layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

These new laws further undermine prohibition make it that much more difficult for the federal government to enforce it in Washington state.


Enactment of these two laws ignores federal prohibition and continues the process of nullifying it in practice in Washington state.

Washington, along with Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit this year.

With 33 states including Washington allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.

“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.

Michael Maharrey [send him email] is the Communications Director for the Tenth Amendment Center, where this article first appeared. He proudly resides in the original home of the Principles of ’98 – Kentucky. See his blog archive here and his article archive here. He is the author of the book, Our Last Hope: Rediscovering the Lost Path to Liberty. You can visit his personal website at and like him on Facebook HERE

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